==This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World. While we are hiking the Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango this summer, I’ll post an excerpt every Monday.==
The plan was to get over the pass on the highest paved road in Ecuador and onto the coastal side of the country before Carnival came. That way, we could wait out the holiday with many drunk drivers and be poised for a quick and easy jaunt to Peru to get out of Ecuador before our visas expired.
John and I studied our map and chose a nice, small village to wait out Carnival. We would have liked to participate in the celebration, but were mostly just antsy to get on the road. We would lay low in a small hotel in Guaranda and, as soon as it was safe to hit the road, we’d be on our way to Peru.
Following a small river up a narrow valley, we meandered up the mountainside until we reached the paramo. It was a beautiful ride through the stark, windy grasslands of the paramo and we enjoyed our ride.
Once we reached the summit at 13,600 feet, however, it was certainly not pleasant. We piled on layer after layer of clothes and headed down. Even though we were shivering from the cold, every fifteen minutes we had to stop to cool off our brakes and rest our hands. Plummeting down the steep Andean slopes we gripped our brakes with all our might to keep our bikes under control. Every time we stopped, I climbed off my bike with my hands trembling from exhaustion.
As we plunged toward the coast, I started thinking about that very fact – we were on the Pacific side of the Andes. In a mere ninety miles we had climbed from the rainforest of the Amazon basin to the top of the Andes Range, 13,600 feet above sea level. We had pedaled from 1000 feet above sea level to the same height as the highest peaks in Colorado in ninety miles. But now we were over and were looking forward to flat coastal desert riding.
As we entered into the small town of Guaranda, where we hoped to wait out Carnival, we were puzzled. The streets were lined with vendors and there was a large stage set up in the plaza. Colorful banners strung over the roads announced various events.
“What’s going on?” Davy asked as we rode into town. “This doesn’t look like a quiet little town.”
We were confused. We had heard about big Carnival celebrations in Ambato and a few other locations around the country, but hadn’t expected anything in Guaranda. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Water guns!” Daryl shouted as we circled the town looking for a hotel. “Can we get one, Mom?” Just about then a kid squirted us with the gun he was holding. “Please?”
Water poured down from above and we craned our necks to see what was happening. Kids on the roof of a building poured buckets of water over the edge onto us. “It’s a water fight!” Davy shouted. “I wanna play!”
We found a hotel, safely stashed our bikes, then headed out to buy water guns for the boys. With huge grins splashed across their faces, they charged out the door to find some local kids to play with.
“Hey, Mom,” they said as they traipsed in the door, soaking wet. “Can we get some karaoki?”
“Karaoki – it’s a type of spray stuff that people use here. It’s a pressurized can of shaving cream-type stuff and it shoots about ten feet. They use it to shoot people. Can we get some?”
After talking with a few people, I figured out that we were dead wrong about Guaranda being a little sleepy town during Carnival. In fact, it was THE place to be for a rowdy celebration. Other cities were known as being tamer and gentler; Guaranda was the party capital of Ecuador.
For the next week we enjoyed eight-hour parades with fabulous costumes and high-energy dancing. The boys played with their water guns and came home soaking wet.
Turned out we landed in the right spot after all.